Personal Space

Robert Sommer’s 1969 book Personal Space: the Behavioral Basis of Design should be on every service designer’s bookshelf. Sommer was a student of Dr. Humphrey Osmond and continued Osmond’s research into sociofugal and sociopetal patterns.

What is needed is a middleman who is acquainted with the design field as well as the social sciences to translate relevant behavioral data into terms meaningful to [architects and building administrators].

The first part of the book covers much of the same terrain as Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension in regard to spatial behavior. This is valuable — and lays a necessary foundation — but where the book really shines is through Sommer’s analysis of particular spatial settings in part two. Hospitals, schools, taverns and dormitories; along with passing anecdotes from diners, coffeeshops, prisons, libraries, subways and airports.

The book is nearly forty years old, so there are some anachronisms (he speculates on the future impact of “talking typewriters” in schools) but human behavior is more stable than technology. Sommer’s work is a fantastic exploration of behavior and environmental impact.

  1. shamy

    i m a student of m. arch. and is working on personal spaces in public context. i m surprised to c that mr. sommer has worked on the issue 40 yrs before. this book is worth reading especially for architects.

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